The Report and Final Stage debates on the Gender Recognition Bill 2014 have now concluded in Seanad Eireann. The Bill will now proceed to the Dáil in March. The Minister responsible for this legislation, Labour’s Kevin Humphreys, only accepted two significant amendments in the Seanad.
The first amendment is that the Bill will contain a provision for the legislation to be reviewed in two years. This is welcome. It offers the opportunity to deal with problems in its implementation. Unfortunately, it might also be needed to address the weaknesses that remain in the current Bill, unless these are resolved in the Dáil.
The second amendment is that the phrase “medical evaluation” has been removed from the medical criteria. However, the Bill still requires that a primary-treating medical practitioner, defined as a psychiatrist or endocrinologist, provide a letter confirming that the applicant for gender recognition is trans. This medicalises and pathologises the identities of trans people.
It fails to differentiate between medical transition, a process where some of us may seek appropriate gender-confirming healthcare, and legal transition, a process where, independent of healthcare, we seek to have our true civil status recognised. It makes an explicit assumption that all trans people will undergo a medical transition when, for a variety of reasons, many trans people do not. Medical criteria disrespect the dignity and agency of trans people and pathologise trans identities.
During the debates on the Bill, Senators were almost unanimous in their criticism of this element of the Bill. They were equally critical of two further elements that have also not been addressed. These were the need for applicants for gender recognition to be single and the absence of protection for, and acknowledgement of, young trans people.
A substantial number of amendments was offered on a cross-party basis by Senators to address these obvious deficiencies in the Bill. Yet, despite strong arguments in favour of human-rights-based changes, founded on best-practice models elsewhere which place the lives of trans people at the centre, the Minister stated he was not in a position to accept the proposed changes.
It is incredibly unfortunate that the voices of trans people were not listened to, and that their needs and experiences were not given due consideration. There are serious problems with this Bill, and they simply must be addressed if this legislation is to serve the needs of the very people it is supposed to protect.
As it currently stands, only people who are single will be allowed to apply to have their gender recognised. This effectively forces trans people who are married or in civil partnerships to terminate our legal union before being granted formal recognition for our gender identity. This forces people to choose between their family and their right to legal recognition of their identity, an impossible decision for anybody to have to make. It is an intolerable burden placed on the families of trans people, that is not placed on any other Irish families.
“But in the eyes of my State, the man I have become does not exist”, were the words of a young trans man read into the record during the Seanad debates. Trans people under 16 years of age are excluded from being legally recognised even if they have parental support. Lack of legal recognition has negative social and mental health implications. Trans children and young people are among the most isolated young people in Irish society and excluding them from legal gender recognition only increases their marginalisation.
The requirements for individuals who are 16-17 years old to gain recognition are also extremely onerous and effectively exclude those with no parental consent from gaining recognition before turning 18 years of age. Young people have to use their birth certificates when enrolling in school and college, participating in sports, and pursuing the CAO process. They are left at risk of being outed (their trans status disclosed) which can lead to bullying, harassment and even violence. There is a failure to acknowledge a core element of their identities which can exacerbate feelings of stigmatisation, isolation and exclusion.
It has been made very clear what changes need to be made in this Bill. The deficiencies simply must be addressed as the Bill is considered in the Dáil. •
Aoife O’Driscoll is the Communications Manager at Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI).